Residents Testify Against Dollar General

By Cynthia Prairie

Monday’s hearing on the conditional use permit sought to allow construction of a Dollar General store was more emotional and contentious than previous ones, this time with several members of the Development Review Board expressing doubt about the project and more Chester residents testifying against it. Within the next two weeks, the DRB will meet in deliberative session to discuss the proposed store before reconvening on Monday, Feb. 13 for what could be its final meeting on the matter.

Artist's rendering of proposed Dollar General before roof height change, supplied by Zaremba Group.

It then will have 60 days to make a decision,  or the proposal would go through by default. Dollar General is proposing a 9,100-square-foot retail outlet on land adjacent to the Zachary’s Pizza House property and directly across the street from the Country Girl Diner on Main Street. If it goes through, it will sell everything from food to clothes to hardware and electronics, books and stationary items.

At several times during the Jan. 9 meeting – attended by about 25 Chester residents – a tug of war ensued between DRB Chair Peter Hudkins and Matt Casey, of the Zaremba Group developer: Hudkins asking for more information and Casey hesitating then refusing. That information included a full set of building drawings and “deflection calculations,” which indicate how the steel roof proposed for the building would perform under a heavy load. Casey finally said he wouldn’t present a full set of drawings until he gets an Act 250 permit to continue and that the building would be “built to code” so he’d “rather not” present the calculation. 

CORPORATE, COMMUNITY

Other board members expressed skepticism about the project. Mark Curran was concerned about money being spent at Dollar General that would go to corporate headquarters rather than circulate within Chester.
Resident Diana Ashworth agreed, saying, “Tourism is the main source of income. People want to see an unaltered, true Vermont.” Dollar General, she added, “would take away from local business … (that) live, buy and reinvest locally. (Dollar General) will take that local money and take it corporate.”

“In Chester, it’s neighbors taking care of neighbors,” she continued, telling of a neighbor’s lost dog who was located at Lisai’s Grocery, where it had been given a bed and a safe place.

Michele Bargfrede, a jeweler and small business owner, testified that during Hurricane Irene, a number of local businesses – “some here tonight” – stepped in to help, which they do “every day … with school fundraisers, charity events. … These are some of the same people who will be adversely impacted” if Dollar General goes through. Bargfrede added that “Dollar General has not even sent a representative from their company to these meetings. They don’t care if this community thrives or fails, but would probably do better if we failed.”

“If anything goes wrong” at a Dollar General, said Scott Morgan, an artist who is also a member of Smart Growth Chester, “you can’t contact the owner, which you can do at Lisai’s.”

CHARACTER OF CHESTER

DRB member Scott Wunderle said, “I’m starting to feel it (the Dollar General) will adversely affect” the character of the area. Casey responded, “It’s a large mix (of building styles), we fit in with that mix.” But Wunderle added, “I don’t think it does fit. It is quite a bit different.”

Shawn Cunningham*, of Smart Growth Chester, responded that most of the buildings that Dollar General is citing as comparable examples were built — or conditional use permits were sought — before current zoning laws were adopted and are therefore irrelevant.

“We need to approve our buildings with today’s standards, not with yesterday’s,” testified resident Carrie King.

Claudio Veliz, an architect and member of Smart Growth Chester, read from town Zoning Regulations: “That all construction of new buildings, as well as any exterior alteration … or renovation of existing buildings adhere harmoniously to the over-all New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.” He then emphasized that the center of Chester referred to the area surrounding the Green.

Dollar General representatives began the meeting by offering even more changes – including raising the height of the building by 4.5 feet to slightly steepen the pitch of the roof, adding snow guards along the roof’s west side and moving the fire hydrant further south toward Main Street to satisfy a concern of DRB member and Fire Chief Harry Goodell.

At the same time, they also proposed cladding the 9,100-square-foot building in vinyl siding. In earlier versions, Zaremba had proposed to use wood siding to comply with the encouragement to use “native, traditional building materials” in Chester’s zoning regulations.

*Editor’s note: Shawn Cunningham is married to Cynthia Prairie.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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